This is the seventh instalment in a monthly series of articles for the readers of Risk UK where we shine the spotlight on NSI-approved businesses for the benefit of risk and security managers who purchase security guarding as well as systems-focused solutions. Answering our questions this time around is Michelle Bailey, managing director of Active Response Security Services.
Risk UK: Can you briefly describe your business’ activities and what you consider to be your USP as an organisation?
Michelle Bailey: Active Response Security Services is celebrating its tenth year of operations. We provide physical security solutions throughout the UK and specialise in services to the FM sector. We adopt a partnership approach with our clients, engaging them within our recruitment drives and empowering them within our decision-making processes. After an initial assessment of site needs, a competency test is tailored to site-specific requirements.
The business employs a multi-skilled workforce and provides general security guarding, Front of House and building management services. Training received by employees is wide-ranging, from IOSH instruction through to First Aid.
Investment in training at an early stage increases the opportunity for a successful ‘match’ between employer and employee. We’re extremely proud of our staff retention rates.
Ongoing training is then provided though our Active Academy which was key to us winning the ACS Champion of the Year Award in 2014.
The initial recruitment process and ongoing support for on-site teams is one of our greatest strengths. We want our security officers to wear their uniforms with pride and demonstrate that pride through the service they provide.
Risk UK: What do your clients value most about the services you deliver?
Michelle Bailey: It’s a transparent service. We pride ourselves on the management infrastructure we have in place. Our clients are not just ‘buying-in’ to an officer on-site, but rather a network of support that’s on hand to offer guidance.
Our Customer Service Charter and Strategy is supplied and updated annually, outlining our commitment to provide an excellent service.
Our clients also value our commitment to protecting the wider public. For instance, we’ve delivered Security Awareness courses free of charge to local retailers in light of recent incidents. This has served to reassure our local town that, should the need arise, we’re equipped to work both independently and as a collective to maximise business continuity.
Through our Active Academy programme and consistent skills gap analyses, our clients are reassured that, as and when their security needs change, we will adapt and upskill our officers to suit where necessary.
We don’t want our clients to feel that they’re just an invoice payment. Building solid working relationships not only strengthens the bond with clients, but also the degree of trust. We’re not perfect. Human error does occur. We cannot guarantee mistakes will not arise, but we can guarantee that, when they do, our clients will have the support of a wider management team.
Risk UK: How do you feel accreditations have assisted your company?
Michelle Bailey: Active Response Security Services currently sits within the Top 2% of all Security Industry Authority (SIA) Approved Contractors based on the percentile scoring system at the time of our latest assessment. The Self-Assessment Workbook has given us the foundations to build upon and identify the standards we should strive to achieve.
We’re very much a family at Active Response Security Services and extremely fortunate that all staff members value our current standing. It’s a shared achievement when we can demonstrate year-on-year improvement.
From a tendering perspective, there has been a surge of awareness about the Approved Contractor Scheme (ACS) among both public authority and private sector clients alike. This is demonstrated through the pre-qualification questions asked in the initial tender stages.
However, and especially so within the events industry, we do find that there’s stil a lack of understanding as to what the ACS is and the benefits it can realise.
Risk UK: Specifically, what value does ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval bring to your business and its clients?
Michelle Bailey: We feel that ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval are recognised quality marks, with our clients having some understanding of the technicalities involved in gaining and maintaining them. This is down to us communicating with our clients regarding our current position, what standards we’ve achieved and what goals we’ve set for the next 12 months to improve upon our current offer.
There could be further validity given behind the accreditations in terms of where you sit within the percentile system as a business or what standards you’ve achieved to aid tender processes further and recognise those companies that have gone above and beyond in a bid to demonstrate continuous improvement.
In practice, what are the main differences between ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval?
Michelle Bailey: As an ACS registered company, our clients can be reassured that we’re meeting the regulatory standards duly outlined by the scheme.
NSI Guarding Gold approval leads to further reassurance in that it demonstrates we have a Quality Management System in place underpinning the core functions against which the business is rigorously assessed.
Risk UK: How do you feel technology has changed the industry over the last couple of years and what do you believe will be the direction of travel in the future?
Michelle Bailey: We’ve seen a vast increase in the use of CCTV and biometric systems, etc. In tandem, it has long been debated that the security officer will, at some point in time, be replaced by technology. We disagree. In some circumstances this may be the case. However, the two complement each other to provide a total solution for the end user customer.
The environments within which we work demand a physical presence. Given that our security officers are trained across various functions, they play a vital role in overall building management to relieve the pressures on senior facility managers. In short, there will always be a need for a human presence.
I’ve followed with interest current discussions on the present and future use of drones in the security arena. It has been suggested that mobile patrols conducted on foot could become a thing of the past in years ahead and a virtual patrol carried out instead.
Who knows what the future holds?
Risk UK: When it comes to negotiating contracts and responding to tender requests, what aspects are of most value to customers and how are these changing?
Michelle Bailey: We’re living in a cost-conscious society, and it’s dispiriting to learn that the benchmarking system (ie cost versus quality) is becoming marginally closer, if not weighted more heavily towards cost.
At the same time, the requirements placed upon officers on site are increasing. Careful consideration must be given to each tender to establish whether it’s the right fit for our organisation. Based on our current ACS/NSI standings, we have solid processes and procedures in place which makes the ability to demonstrate the required skills easier.
Times are most certainly changing. There’s a more widespread awareness of the need to protect vulnerable people. As such, we’ve seen a shift in the requirement of not only safeguarding policies being put in place, but also a satisfactory understanding of our responsibilities in respect of them.
We employ an in-house safeguarding officer and, as much as we’re employed to fulfil a role, we do ensure that this element of our work is carried out as ethically as possible.
We also monitor displacement issues when individuals have been removed from site and share Best Practice information such that we’re not just ‘passing on’ the problem.
Risk UK: How has Government legislation (eg the National Minimum Wage, the National Living Wage and holiday pay) affected your business? Do you believe such legislation is a good thing?
Michelle Bailey: The introduction of the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage means that the security industry is now a viable option for individuals rather than being seen as a stop-gap choice. The salary brackets are in line with many other positions available in different sectors.
In today’s world, cost is often front and centre in companies’ annual reviews. Security can be viewed as a grudge purchase. Security companies have little option but to offer the National Minimum Wage in order to retain their current contracts. We’re fortunate that the majority of our contracts exceed the National Minimum Wage by demonstrating the added value and the dual role that security officers very often bring to the fore.
Risk UK: What are the most important attributes you look for in your security officers and staff members in general?
Michelle Bailey: We aim to remove barriers to employment wherever possible. We’re extremely confident within our training processes and about what we can offer to a new employee. We aim to offer positions to those that have been long-term unemployed and introduce flexible working options to allow working parents the opportunity of employment. As such, we have a high number of female security officers on our books.
Active Response Security Services runs an employability programme through the aforementioned Active Academy for those transitioning back into employment. This has been widely successful and rolled out nationally by other third party agencies.
Initially, our ethos is to look out for that which cannot be trained. A recent example was the employment of a mobile supervisor who had no previous experience outside of his security officer role. However, he demonstrated a sense of empathy and compassion. That’s something we cannot train. It comes from within the individual concerned.
As part of his role, this individual is maintaining the welfare of our officers. Based on the vulnerabilities of some of our end users, he ticked the boxes for us.
Of course, there are inevitably going to be those occasions where previous experience or specific qualifications are a ‘must. Through competency tests and scenario-based examples, we shortlist candidates who fall into this category and then engage our clients within the final selection process.
Risk UK: How can the SIA, the NSI and industry standards best serve the sector in addition to the needs of your company’s clients and the wider public interest? Will the introduction of business licensing be a positive step?
Michelle Bailey: As far as Active Response Security Services is concerned, we believe that an identification system needs to be introduced to allow those that have exceeded the stated standards and who consistently excel to be recognised for doing so.
To maintain both SIA ACS registration and NSI Guarding Gold approval at maximum capacity represents a huge commitment and investment, yet there’s no way of verifying this within tender processes.
The proposed introduction of business licensing will demonstrate a commitment from our accrediting bodies that they’re overseeing the industry as a whole, and not just those businesses that choose to participate within the schemes. That will afford more transparency and reassurance for end users.
Time in security business sector
I’ve been working within the security business sector for the last 25 years, founding Active Response Security Services ten years ago
Location of the business
Active Response Security Services is headquartered at The Coach House in Barnsley, South Yorkshire
Areas of expertise
Security guarding, FM support services, mobile patrols, key holding and incident response, event management, door supervision services and vacant property inspections. With a 24-hour Help Desk, mobile supervision and a dedicated contract manager, clients are not just contracting security officers, but rather a network of support dedicated to ensuring that first class customer service is achieved
NSI Guarding Gold, SIA ACS, Contractors Health and Safety Assessment Scheme (CHAS)
About the National Security Inspectorate
The National Security Inspectorate (NSI) is a wholly-independent, not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and operates as a UKAS-accredited certification body specialising in the security and fire safety sectors.
For over 40 years, the NSI has served to protect businesses, homeowners and the general public alike, raising standards by providing robust and high quality audits of both security and fire safety service providers.